Meet Novelist Char Chaffin

Char Chaffin writes mostly women’s fiction but is also trying her hand at paranormal romance, since she has long been fascinated by vampires and werewolves. Her stories feature heroines on a journey of self-awareness and improvement, paired with men who might not always understand them but love them, unconditionally, through times of crisis as well as triumph.

Char lives on a sixty-acre farm in the Mohawk Valley region of Upstate New York. She’s a native New-Yorker who grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. A thirty-five year love affair with her husband, Don, netted her a deep appreciation for all the nuances of romance. Since Don is retired Air Force, it also afforded her a chance to travel. They’ve lived in six different states, have traveled to many more, and at this stage in Char’s life she can claim to have been in all fifty states, including sixteen years in Alaska. Char and Don’s farm life is ruled by Daisy Mae, their thirteen-year-old Rat Terrier, who rides herd on Cat One and Cat Two, originally hired as barnyard mice and pigeon wranglers.

Char has held a wide scope of jobs, including live-in nanny, a stint on a dairy farm, working as a data technician for USAF Fighter Pilots at Nellis AFB in Nevada, owner/operator of a drive-through espresso stand, and an accounting/fiscal officer for the University of Alaska. But one of her happiest days occurred when Don said to her, “Okay, you can retire now, and write.”

Farming now takes up most of Char’s spring and summer. Reading is more vital to her than breathing (most of the time), and she seldom sits without a book in hand. Unless she’s—of course—sitting in her office, writing. When she can be persuaded to leave her computer or drop the book, Char enjoys cooking, canning, and crocheting. She’s also an accomplished seamstress.

I asked Char about her favorite treats, and here’s what she had to say . . .

One of my favorite snacks is my homemade Black Bean and Corn Salsa with homemade Flour Tortillas. (Recipe for both available on request!) Pair it with Alaskan Amber Beer or Diet Dr. Pepper.

In honor of Char’s visit, we’re serving up virtual versions of that yummy salsa with her tortillas, so, help yourself. You can munch out while you enjoy learning more about Char and her writing..

Char’s Journey Begins

You’ve been writing for ten years, beginning with poetry and moving on to short stories. What did your early experiences teach you?

Mostly, that I didn’t know squat about writing! I had to teach myself to write for others as well as for myself. I think it’s important to write what you feel, but for me it’s just as vital to write for the sake of the readers’ enjoyment. My grammar skills were always good. Now, I had to learn to write believable characters and put them in intriguing situations. In other words, create a manuscript!

When did you become serious about seeing your name in print and begin writing your first romance novel?

Probably about five years ago. I had an image of that first novel in my head, but finding spare hours to sit and write it down was the tough part. At the time, we owned and operated three hectic local businesses. I was working fourteen-hour days, coming home at night in a state of collapse. And there were still chores to do on the farm. Extra hours for writing took a back seat, though I never lost my desire to get those words down and start forming my novel.

You joined Romance Writers of America® recently and have made some great connections. How did this come about? In what ways has your involvement in RWA® helped you grow as a writer?

Joining RWA was originally my husband’s idea. He’s a great motivator! Of course I knew of RWA, but I sometimes let other things get in the way of small, important goals. Don merely told me (in a much more polite way) to ‘get my thumb out of my butt’ and join, take advantage of available resources. So I joined. Very smart decision (thank you, Honey!).

Char’s Conference High

You attended your regional RWA conference this past June and had some good things happen. Please tell us about them.

Attending my first regional conference was an enormous boost to my inner focus. Meeting others in my boat (trying to get published), talking to chapter members who are published and hearing how long it took for them to realize their dreams… It was and will continue to be the best learning experience for me. I was also able to pitch two manuscripts (nervous experience!), and one, my first completed manuscript, was requested in its entirety.

Woohoo! How exciting that an agent is interested in seeing your story. I wish you well on your revisions and hope it leads to an offer of representation.

Thanks! I’ve got so many friends and family crossing their fingers and toes! Some luck should come of that alone! One of my good friends, also a writer, sent me bracelets for my birthday; one spells out ‘writer’ and the other spells out ‘author.’ I feel charmed when I wear them! I’m happy to announce that my revisions are done and the ‘new and improved’ manuscript has been sent to the agent, who hopefully will love it and want it (more crossed fingers, toes, even a few eyes).

Char’s Challenges and Solutions

Writers face many challenges. What are some of yours? What do you do to overcome them?

I am fascinated by what drives a person to sit down at a computer or typewriter and choose to write, when there are other things to do or experience. I question my own reasons behind why I do it. Usually I come up with the same answer, each time: because I have to. It’s never completely easy and the urge to talk myself out of dedicating time on my current project can be overwhelming especially because I’m home all day and so many other things demand my time.

Then there’s writer’s block, which every writer faces one time or another. For me, there’s no magic solution: I just make myself sit down and start, even if it means I stare at a blank screen. Eventually, it’ll come to me. I also promise myself a treat if I make a decent dent in the writing, usually centered around chocolate. <g>

Char’s Writing Process

What is the most thrilling aspect of the writing process for you?

That first instant of writing out the bare bones/outline, when the characters click and the plot makes sense and I’m psyched enough to think, “Oh, boy, somebody’s really going to want to read this when I’m finished!”

What aspects of the writing process do you find most challenging?

Pushing past the first five chapters. I don’t know why Chapter Number Six is the magic chapter for me, but it almost always is. I’ve got my share of stories in my Unfinished Biz folder on my computer (every writer has some form or other of those, I guarantee), where Chapter Five was where I stopped. My goal and personal promise to myself is that I’ll finish every one of them.

Where do you craft your stories? Do you hole up in an office, hang out at a coffee house, or head to a park where you’re surrounded by nature’s sights and sounds?

Oh, I bury myself in my office. If it’s warm out, I open a window so that I can hear the outside, birds chirping, wind rustling, doesn’t matter. No music; just whatever sounds I hear outside. If it’s just too cold out to open a window—I do live in New York, after all!—then I ‘listen’ to the story. Listening to the story will net me the sounds I need to get me motivated.

How do you begin a story? Do you just sit down with an idea in mind and start writing, or are you a person who wouldn’t dream of starting without a detailed outline, character sketches, and pages of research data?

It depends. I’ve been known to create detailed outlines, several pages long. Doing research also depends on what I know of the back-story I’m trying to create. Sometimes I spend hours on the internet, digging up what I need to set a story in a certain locale. Names of small towns, names of streets, what kind of stores, what variety of houses. What flowers grow there, what trees. If I set a story in a place I know well—for example, I’ve started one that takes place in rural Alaska—then I just sit down, crack my knuckles and dig in. I figure the lead characters will come, eventually, and they always do.

How did you approach the revisions requested by the agent who was interested in seeing a shorter version of your story?

Well, I was offered a choice: pare it down, or forget it. Couched in much nicer terms, of course! She seems happy with my writing style, but she’s right: the manuscript was too large for an unproven, unpublished writer. She gave me a ‘magic number’ as a goal, and that’s what I worked toward. It meant being very careful to preserve the integrity of the plot and the detail of the characters without letting things like excessive back-story and passive voice get in the way.

I also got some excellent help, from a published writer I met online in an RWA workshop. She also does freelance editing. She was instrumental in helping me cut/revise/improve. And she really pushed me to rid myself of the dreaded passive voice.

Char’s Sources of Inspiration

Who or what sparks the ideas for your stories?

I’m married to a romantic man, and that helps a lot! I’ll remember something we did together, in our past. Sometimes I have dreams. Sometimes Don has dreams, and they’re good enough to write down and then outline. Maybe I’ll hear a song, and that will trigger a scene, which in turn becomes a story. Sometimes I see a person on the street and my mind starts weaving around them, based on nothing more than what they look like or what they’re doing.

It’s a place, it’s a holiday; it’s a drive in a car or a pair of shoes I see in a shop window. I imagine who might buy those shoes and where they might wear them, and there’s a scene. Which might become a story. I’ll see a woman combing her long hair and think of what I’d do if I had hair that long. Then I create a character around the hair. I’ll hear an accent that strikes me the right way. I guess I’m saying: anything!

What inspires you when you’re writing? Music? Motivational sayings on your office walls? A hefty dose of caffeine?

The story inspires me the most. I feed off what I’m writing as I’m writing it. I am easily distracted, so having music playing isn’t a good idea. I don’t answer the phone, I don’t watch TV. If someone talks to me, chances are I won’t hear them. I really zone out.

Who or what serves to spur you on, lifts you up, and keeps you moving forward with dogged determination in pursuit of your dream of publication?

Well… Dream of publication is in there, for sure. I have to imagine how awesome it would be to see something I created, in print and in my hand. Hopefully on bookshelves, too! But I know I’ll write no matter what. I can’t see myself ever stopping. I may not publish a single book, or if I do, I might not sell many of what I publish. But I’ll never stop writing.

My family has faith in me; they always have. They understand my need to write, and that’s not always an easy thing for them. If I’m never a success, they’ll know it’s not for lack of trying.

Char’s Journey Continues

What do you plan to work on now that you’ve completed your revisions?

I have three manuscripts started—which for me means I’ve gotten past Chapter Five. Since I have sent my revised manuscript on to the agent and am currently waiting to see what she thinks, I’m ready to sit down with one of three, and start in on it again. I won’t know which one until I re-read all of them. It’ll come to me, then. Fingers crossed!

Five Fun Facts About Char

~ I was a costume designer for a small light-opera troupe in Alaska, designing for the entire ensemble, my specialty being historical eras and hat-making (think headdresses and Tudor-esque head-gear). I’ve also designed and sewn three wedding gowns.

~ I spent five years on the front lines of a Sweet Adelines chorus, singing barbershop harmony; I was also their costume designer. During my years with them, our chorus went to regional competition and won First Place.

~ I’ve sung cabaret on stage during Alaska Summer Art Festivals. I do a mean version of ‘Making Whoopee.’ <g>

~ I create recipes. Fairly easy when you know basic ratios. For instance, a cup of shortening/butter/oil to two cups of flour, increase seasoning by a half-teaspoon for each new added ingredient, etc.

~ I’m a huge horror fan. I started watching horror movies when I was about four years old. My older brothers would sneak me out of bed on Saturday nights to watch ‘Chiller Theatre’ with them. I sat in the middle and got to hold the popcorn. I passed on the legacy to daughter Sue Ann, who saw her first scary movie at age five or six. She’s hooked, too.

~ I made PRO status a few weeks ago! Definitely an accomplishment, and I guess you could call it a sixth fun fact! As the song goes, ‘things can only get better.’ <g>

Char’s Question for You

I’ve stated above that I will keep writing regardless of whether or not I publish. I’d like to know: is there any reason you’d stop writing; anything in your life that could turn you away from creating art with words?

Char’s Drawing

Char has generously offered to give away a gift basket of home-canned goods.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Char by midnight October 19 and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process.

On October 20, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address.

Congratulations to Amy Kennedy, winner of Char’s home-canned goodies.

Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

Learn More About Char

Visit her website: http://char.chaffin.com

Visit her personal blog: Char Chaffin

Friend her on Facebook ~ Char Chaffin

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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38 Responses to Meet Novelist Char Chaffin

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Char! It’s such a pleasure to have you as my guest.

    Congratulations on your PRO status! That’s way cool.

    I think it’s neat that you sang with the Sweet Adelines. My family loves barbershop harmony.

    • Char says:

      Keli, thanks so much! The article looks great, and I so enjoyed getting to know you and sharing my thoughts on writing. This has been wonderful fun! Your blog is such a caring, thoughtful place to visit and learn!

  2. I have known the awesome Char Chaffin for many years now and consider her to be a good friend. She is an amazing writer, and I look forward to seeing her wonderful stories in print! Thank you for featuring her here on this blog.

    Char, baby, keep going! I am so, so proud of you, and I hope to see you in person very, very soon.

    • Chae says:

      Oh, thanks so much, Rose my love! Guess who’s been an inspiration to me? (hint: look in the mirror!) God willing, we’ll see each other soon – you know the Red Room is always ready for you!

  3. Keli, as always I love your interviews. Char’s story confirms what I have always known…

    We do what is in our hearts to do. It may be sooner for some, later for others. But in the end, we must travel to that place in our hearts that speaks of who we are.

    Char, I was also reluctant to join RWA, but so many writers raved about how supportive it is and how invaluable the info, workshops and chapter contests can be.

    I recently joined RWA-Women’s Fiction Chapter and have found a home with these women.

    To answer Char’s question. Nothing. Nothing could have kept me from finding the time of my life to be alone with the words that I needed to write.

    My weakness and my constant struggle is SLOWING down, keeping the arc strong and editing out redundant or lazy writing.

    Although, it will be the third novel, I have a mystery, the first of The Maggie Sullivan Mysteries … where the villan is thought to be a cute little dancer who loves to have the band play Sweet Adeline when she enters the room. Barber Shop is how my brother taught me to harmonize.

    Thanks so much for this post.

    Char, I look forward to reading your web page and blog and of course, I hold the best thoughts for your first publication. The agent will love you 🙂

    • Char says:

      Thanks very much! I thought I recognized your sig; I’m also a member of RWA-WF, and I’ve seen some of your posts. It really is a wonderfully supportive group of ladies.

      You sing barbershop? How cool! What part? I always sang lead.

      Appreciate the positive thoughts!

  4. Tamera Lynn says:

    I really enjoyed getting to know you better in this interview, Char! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you with that agent!

    • Char says:

      Thanks, Tamera! I appreciate the crossed fingers, but be sure to un-cross them when you start your wonderful writing back up! One of these days I hope to sit in an AK-RWA meeting with you!

  5. DeNise says:

    What a great interview, my fingers are crossed for you too.

    • Char says:

      Thanks, DeNise! Looking forward to meeting you one of these days, too! I’m always trying to finagle a way back up to Alaska!

  6. Angie says:

    I found a way to this via Mims–what a delight to see your dream coming true! All the best to you Char–can’t wait to read your work!

  7. Sue Ann says:

    Mom, I am SO proud of you! This was a wonderful interview!

    I aspire to be even half as talented, amazing, sweet and lovely as you have always been. You are my true inspiration in life and I love you so very much!

    Keep up the good work and we’ll keep sending up the prayers! Those books WILL be on the shelves someday and I hope to have my own, personal, signed copy!

    Love and other ridiculously mushy things,
    ~Your proud and thankful daughter~

  8. Hi Char. Wonderful interview. I hope you get the call soon!

  9. Hi Char and Keli,

    Wonderful interview! Sounds like you have a real supportive husband–a real keeper. Congrats on your request and PRO status!

    Tracey

    • Char Chaffin says:

      Tracey, thanks! I have the most supportive family, there’s no doubt. And I can’t say enough about Keli’s wonderful blog. SO helpful to all of us!

  10. Gail Smith says:

    Char,
    You sound like a very gifted individual. God Bless you and good luck on your revisions. You will get published. I know you will. You have great insight to others. That’s a gift…cherish it.

    Congratulations on making PRO. What a great feat…

    Gail

    • Char Chaffin says:

      Thanks so much, Gail. I appreciate the lovely compliment. And thanks for stopping by my website and leaving a message! I’ll PM you with anything I can help you with –

  11. LoRee Peery says:

    Great interview. I love to “visit” with other writers. I’ve tried to quit writing, and always come back. We are to never to say never, but I am not God and He alone knows the full journey of my life. He may have a jog in the road due to family needs or health or things unseen. I can’t help but think that through whatever lies ahead, I will always journal, always look at the world as full of ideas, always try to send encouraging notes. And what a terrific gift for a fortunate visitor. I appreciate homemade foods, since I am not a good cook.

    • Char says:

      Thanks, LoRee! I hope you do continue to write, even if it’s only for yourself. Appreciate you stopping by!

  12. John C says:

    It is great that you are writing. Don is your #1 fan, your shared experince give you a huge diversity of information.
    GOOD LUCK!
    John

  13. Laura S says:

    Char, it was great to read your interview. I know that you are a very talented writer so I also know you will experience your dreams. Keep up the great work and see you very soon 🙂

    Laura

    • Char says:

      Thank you, Laura! You’ve always been so enthusiastic about my writing, I can’t tell you what a blessing it’s been for me. Looking forward to seeing you next month!

  14. amy kennedy says:

    This was great, I’m sure you’ll be a published author soon. It’s wonderful that you have the support system you do (RWA was your husband’s idea?!). And Your daughter’s comment got me all verklempt.
    Thanks, Amy

    • Char says:

      Oh, thank you, Amy! Yes, her comment got me the same way. She’s the love of our lives. She still lives in Fairbanks and I miss her horribly. And yes, joining RWA was Don’s idea. He takes such good care of me!

  15. Liz Selvig says:

    Hi Char!
    It’s so nice to finally “meet” my fellow not-in-Alaska-anymore Alaskan writer buddy! I loved the interview, isn’t Keli great? You have a great story to tell and I love the tidbits about how you get your ideas. I’m also impressed with all the talents you have!

    I’m sure I would still write if I didn’t get published. I’ve been doing this for most of my life and I haven’t quit yet. I’m very sure I’d stop if I was told my family’s life depended on it. But I’m not sure I’d stop if it were my own life on the line!

    Good luck with your writing and finding an agent. AND, congrats on PRO status. That’s an important, special step to take!

    • Char says:

      Hi Liz! Thanks so much for stopping by and for your lovely comments. Hopefully we’ll sit in a meeting together one of these days. We’ll definitely see each other at National next year. I can’t wait to meet all my Alaskan co-members. And I’m so impressed with you, winning the Golden Heart this year. How thrilling for you!

  16. Diane says:

    I just wanted to say hi neighbor! I live near Utica so we must be close. Good luck with all your future books!!! :O)

  17. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by to learn more about Char and her writing journey.

    I’ve held the drawing for the basket of home canned goodies Char so generously offered as a prize, and the winner is Amy Kennedy.

    Congratulations, Amy! I’ll be in touch.

    • Char Chaffin says:

      Keli, thank YOU! This was so much fun. I think your blog is fantastic and I’m awed by the amount of excellent information and support that can be found here. You can bet I’ll be visiting often!

      Char

  18. Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

    Thank you, Keli , for this interview and article. I have discovered Char Chaffin`s writing /stories recently and find her writing absolutley amazing!!

    With many greetings from Germany and best wishes for a Happy New Year 2011!

    Martina

  19. Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

    I have to thank Char for one story she wrote and which I read today, just in the right moment when I had to make a decision. Must have been a twist of fate that I read it just today…thank you, Char. It brought a light to a dark day.

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